The “Roaring ‘20s” were really the first peak in a series of cyclical rise and falls of automotive greatness. In just a quarter century, cars had gone from the freakish curiosity of the “horseless carriage” days through the near-ubiquitousness of the Tin Lizzie and now stood as a real, recognizable status symbol. The socioeconomic climate of the ‘20s, in America, was all about success piled upon success, and with that, excess piled upon excess. Perhaps no decade has ever, so perfectly defined the concept of conspicuous consumption. Everything was bigger, bolder, more stylish… and cars were right there at the forefront.
If you think about the most impressive cars of the ‘20s and even ‘30s, they were huge, powerful and ostentatious. They had massive hoods housing massive engines, elaborate paint schemes and such unique body styles as the dual cowl phaeton, something that really hasn’t been seen since. The cars were as ornate as they were brutishly overbuilt, as sumptuous as they were simplistic. The radiated power and success and told the world that their owners were at the top of the top.
No wonder, then, that during the ‘70s, in the darkest times of the Automotive Dark Ages, there was a desire for pomp and presence; a need to reinvigorate the car as a status symbol (instead of the dreadfully dull and ‘past-their-prime’ conveyances they had become). In some cases, this led to hideously prideful examples of hyper-specialized “Neo Classics” like the Excalibur and its ilk. These cars were built in the image of the “Old Masters”, but used modern running gear and tech. To most, these are gross abominations; almost cynical in their unabashedly lustful copying of style without substance.
However, there was another approach that was also taken to resurrecting the classic status of the car, and that was the creation of specialty cars that were modern, but opulent, or outrageous, in the spirit of those earlier, better times. One example of this, that many people have forgotten, is the four-door Corvette America of 1978. Yes, you read that right: four-door. Read it again to make sure you’ve got it.
For many, Corvette has always been “America’s Sports Car”, and that’s quite true. It started as a small, underpowered, lightweight roadster in the true sports car tradition. Thankfully, it grew out of that to become a major force in the performance car market, leaving its humble beginnings quite far behind by the time the monstrously overpowered 427 Vettes were hitting the streets in the late ‘60s. However, one thing had not changed in all that time; the Corvette had always been a two-seater.
What, then, was GM thinking, you might ask, when they decided to have the California Custom Coach company of Pasadena create a four-seater, four-door model? Well, that’s a good question. In fact, the resultant “Corvette America” would end up as an answer to a question that almost nobody asked. Only a handful would be produced (most sources say six), but that wasn’t the plan. GM figured there would be demand for about 40 or so of these things EVERY YEAR! So, what happened?
Well, the Corvette America was expensive. It was around $35,000 when a standard Vette was $13,000 or so. A lot of the reason was that it took two Vettes, and a lot of time and trouble, to make a Corvette America. Frames had to be stretched, welded and reinforced, new fiberglass panels were needed… you can imagine doing all this by hand wasn’t cheap. To top it off, the new car was heavy. Despite everything, CCC and GM wanted to make sure that the Corvette’s signature removable roof experience was carried over to the America, and that meant a lot of extra weight.
Not only was it expensive, it wasn’t a rocket. Let’s face it, no car at this time had anything close to the blistering performance of just a decade before, and even a ’79 Vette is no real race car. Add all those extra seats, reinforcements and length, and both your handling and straight line performance really takes a hit. So, let’s get it sorted then: Here was a Corvette that wasn’t a Corvette. It had four doors, four seats, was super-long so it didn’t handle, and it was slow. Throw in the excessive cost and remember that, in the end, the trimmings are only of GM quality, and you can see why the America just wasn’t going to do as well as originally thought.
It’s easy for us to see the failings in hindsight, and in all honesty, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea? I mean, there are many 4-door supercars now; Panameras, Quattroportes and any AMG 4-door you can name come immediately to mind. So, maybe the Corvette America wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe it was just wrongly executed at the wrong time? Maybe, though, they weren’t trying to make a 4-door Corvette?
What I have always thought is that it was a resurrection of the four-seat roadster, just using the Corvette as a basis. If the concept was actually to create something more akin to the dual-cowl phaetons of the ‘20s, then the Corvette America was actually close to the mark. It has a hugely long wheelbase, it has flowing, exaggerated lines, it has a massive hood and tiny trunk, and it’s excessive in every way. That it is really an open-air, four-seat tourer is right inline with this vision. Perhaps the real failure was in so closely associating it, both in name and design, with the Corvette?
Still, Monogram clearly thought that the Corvette America was something special, and likely figured that it would rank highly as an American Supercar for the early ‘80s at least. To this end, the jumped right on the Corvette America bandwagon, and produced a model of it in 1980 in their usual 1/24 scale. Interestingly, they seem to be the only ones who bothered, and due to the failure of the real car, I don’t think that the Corvette America kit was a particularly hot seller. Most people couldn’t get behind the idea of a four door Corvette in real life, so there wasn’t a lot of people clamouring for a replica since they couldn’t afford the real thing…
Regardless, I personally have always been fascinated with the Corvette America, and I also think that 1980-82 Corvettes are the best looking of them all. Yes, I know that makes me a Corvette Heathen, and many people won’t understand that. I don’t either, but to me, the Corvette America is pretty darned sexy. (Note: I also love the Aston Martin Lagonda…) I’ve wanted a kit of it for ages, and I was super-pumped to finally find one at the 2018 London Scale Model Show, where I got it with a bunch of other oddball stuff, like my BRAT!
So, whether you’re a fan or a hater, let’s take a look at what Monogram and GM both figured might be the next big thing for the Corvette brand!
Unlike some of the wild MPC creations of the ‘80s, Monogram boxes were pretty boring. They had a “style”, if you want to call it that, that saw a white background with the model on it. That’s it. While I can applaud the “truth in advertising” approach that this represents (never mind that the photo of the model is retouched), it is not particularly dynamic. You know me… I love my awesome box art. I also hate pictures of kits as box art. It’s lazy, dull and unless you’ve had a real expert work on it, a kit is never as good looking a representation of the subject as a nice drawing.
So, the box on the Corvette America isn’t going to be getting any blue ribbons from me for excitement or originality. You get a front three quarters view of the car on a white background with the “Monogram flag” and huge black “Corvette America” titling across the top. You see that there are many languages represented and that the kit is 1/24 and moulded in orange. In case you though your eyes were deceiving you, and that something about the kit looked odd or weird, the good folks at Monogram were quick to inform you that yes, this is indeed a “Four Door (sic) Corvette”. Apparently, Monogram also wants you to know that this automotive oddity is the product of Design America and CCC, so you don’t blame them if you hate it. After all, given the completely ludicrous number of custom Corvette model kits, it is plausible that someone would just think that this is something dumb that Monogram came up with to stretch (pun intended) their moulds a bit further!
On the one side of the box is a shot of the rear of the car, in which the length of the America really does show. With that chrome Targa bar, extra set of windows and long wheelbase, the America seems to go on forever into the distance. The other picture shows the open hood and unremarkable, bland engine bay and Motor. So far, that’s the only picture that looks like a normal Vette, and that makes sense, since that part IS a normal Vette!
The other side of the box gives a write up for the car in many languages, and shows a direct side view. This is where the unorthodoxy of the America is driven home. Unlike Trans-Ams, which were built as 2+2s and thus styled accordingly, the four-door Vette is just hugely long. You don’t need four doors for four seats, and I can’t help but wonder if an approach more like the Datsun 280Z 2+2 (or even the prototype 4-seat ’63 Vette) might have been more successful. A slight stretch and roof change might have created a viable 4-seater ’80 Corvette; the America’s approach of four separate doors just makes the car look odd (to most). However, I do love it. As can be seen from the write up, the Corvette America was unique, and was for “discriminating motorists”. Okay, we can go with that.
As promised on the box, the kit is moulded in orange. I know that white and light grey are much easier to work with, but there is something about seeing hard, shiny coloured plastic that just makes me giggle with joy. Maybe because that’s what I grew up with, but I find coloured plastic is just more interesting to look at. The details seem easier to see and at least it looks like the model maker tried to make it fun. Of course, it could be because I’m used to Gundams, and they come in a friggin’ rainbow of colours, so just one colour in a kit is better than nothing!
The first thing that his you, as expected, is how LONG the one-piece body shell is. I mean, it’s HUGE! The chassis and interior buckets are also huge, and the hood seems longer than it is just by association. That it’s 1/24 vs. 1/25 only makes the exaggerated length of the America even more apparent, since as we know that one point in scale makes a surprising difference in size. In the box, there are only four racks of parts and the body shell in orange. You also get four tires and a rack of chrome pieces, as well as the front and rear windows in clear, along with clear (not red clear) tail lights. There aren’t even metal axels on this one – I know because I bought it sealed with the original price tag on it! (It was $9.95 at Eaton’s, a now-extinct Canadian retail chain.)
I normally don’t consider Monogram kits to be as good, detail wise, as MPCs. The Corvette America doesn’t do a lot to change that impression. The engine is passable, but lacks all refinement. The oil pan is moulded in, as are many other accessories, like the starter. This will make clean up and detail painting more difficult and less rewarding. There’s also no texture to the engine block/transmission at all. This is a shame, since a nice texture can pick up a light wash and really make an engine “pop” visually. In addition, the moulding on the engine is soft, so a wash won’t have as many definite lines to grab onto.
This trend continues with the dashboards and seats, both of which are, again, passable, but not the best going. Unlike Tamiyas, though, there are seat backs on the front seats (see Step 10 on the instructions), so that’s something. The dashboard has some instrument detail on the main two gauges, although the Corvette’s trademark centre gauges seem to just be blind holes. The glove box door is faintly outlined in what looks like a raised line, so that will need some rescribing to make sense. The parts feel thick and heavy, as is the usual case for Monogram kits of this era. There’s no way to blame worn moulds for the somewhat soft detail, either – this is an original pressing, and to my knowledge, this kit has never been reissued!
Coming as an additional lack of surprise is that the fit of the endcaps is not stellar. I did a quick “on rack dry fit” of the rear end, and the contours don’t quite match up. They’re close, but there are only a few small pins for location, so something else will be needed. Bust out the sheet styrene, because locating tabs will have to be fabbed-up for this! While you’ve got it out, keep it out for the nose cap, because the fit here is even worse. The sides of the nose are a bit too flared out – and there is NO positive location at all for the nose cap. My suggestion is to put sheet styrene taps on the cap, glue the hell out of them and when they’re good and dry (like, DAYS dry) use them to hold the cap onto the car. This will put the onus on the nose to bend in, rather than trying to hold it all in place while gluing the nose cap to body-mounted tabs.
Where this kit DOES shine, though is in interior bucket and chassis detailing. The chassis, while simple (say, compared to my Tamiya Sierra) has a very nice texture to it. Mind you, I’m not sure it’s appropriate on ALL the surfaces to which it is indiscriminately applied, but hey, it’s a Monogram, so you get what you get. The interior bucket is the same – in a way. There is excellent carpet texture all throughout the interior, but at least it’s where appropriate, and the centre console doesn’t have it. This again, is something the Japanese should definitely have learned. To get a good result, you need an overly-large carpet texture. It allows for low- and high-lighting while looking non-hilly when done. The door panels are somewhat detailed, although not hugely so. This is another interior that will look good with some nice, subtle pastel work.
The chrome rack has the usual assortment of inappropriately chromed engine components (Like the air cleaner, complete with flexible tubing and the master cylinder?!). It also has the two long rocker pieces in chrome, and the four elaborate wire wheels WITH separate spinners! I, personally, hate the slotted Corvette wheels found on normal Vettes. I think they look cheap and like something you’d see on a Camaro up on blocks in a housing project driveway. (Note: this is likely due to where I grew up, as such things were a common sight…) I do, though, LOVE these wires, and I’m a sucker for spinners (as you can tell from my T/A)! Oddly, while the Targa bar over the roof is shown in chrome, on the box lid, it isn’t given as a chrome piece. That is surprising, given the rocker panels.
The tires, being good, old-school rubber, are indeed lettered. They are also rather heavily seamed, so you’re going to have to sand them, but overall, they’re nice, period tires. I am starting to think that whitewalls might actually look more appropriate on this car, but I’ll have to see if my brother has any that fit. Production Americas did not go that far with things, being issued, as this kit, with white letters. The letters are only on one side, though, so you could go straight black walls, if you wanted to. For some weird reason, though, each tire has a small “cut” in it on the non-lettered side. It looks like a crack, but isn’t. It will make the “black wall” side look weird, though, so while it’s an option, it really isn’t…
The windows both go on from the outside, which is unusual for a kit of this age. I have some trepidation on this front; if they’re not a perfect fit this will be very difficult. I actually prefer the “glue to a large flange on the inside” method of window attachment, since it’s rare that windows ever fit exactly. This system doesn’t work here, though, due to the quad T-Roof arrangement, and thus Monogram had to use the “from the outside” approach. This implies an unfortunately unfounded degree of precision and confidence on Monogram’s part. I expect disappointment. Oh, one more thing; it’s a standard Vette front window you’re given, but Americas had a special feature. There were no door handles or locks, and there was a vertical keypad up the side of the driver’s A-Pillar for entering a code to open the car up. (Yes, like Fords had in the ‘90s; at least Ford had the sense to put them on the door.)
The instructions are pure Monogram. They’re fairly small, simple and easy-to-follow. However, they also don’t adequately forewarn of the many potential pitfalls that this kit is going to present a modeller. Everything looks pretty easy and with things like the simple exhaust and suspensions going on in only one step, it will be easy to underestimate the amount of work this kit will take.
Still, there’s no confusing what goes well, and the instructions aren’t so big they’ll take up the whole modelling bench! The instructions show the hood going on and being held in by the front fender wells, and the end caps going on after that. However, I think it will behoove any serious modeller to try and find workarounds for these points. Neither one seems particularly well-advised.
As is sometimes the case, the Corvette America kit doesn’t really represent a real car. Just like MPC’s ’78 Pacer X, the Corvette America made a guess as to what the car would look like for 1980 and beyond. It was a good guess, too. Monogram used the updated design for the 1980 Corvette end caps and put them on the ’79 Vette-based prototype Corvette America. Solid logic, but unfortunately, that’s not how it actually worked out.
There are several major differences between the prototype and the actual “production” America, and even more so when it came to the 1980-model, of which there were one, or maybe two, made. The most obvious difference is the very visible, very kitschy brushed aluminum Targa bar that goes between the two sets of T-bar roofs. This is on the prototype, and maybe ’78-based models only. It’s not on either the red or silver ’80 two-doors that I’ve seen. Secondly, while I love them, the wheels are wrong. Again, the ’78-based ones had wires, but the 80’s had the standard slot-type wheels on them. The last major difference was the chrome rocker – this appears to have only been on the prototype. All in all, the ’80 was trying to be a little less Neo-Classic and a bit more muscle car.
What that means, though, is that this kit is something of a hybrid. It’s actually a “What-If”, to a degree, since there were almost no ’80s made. I like this – I am likely going to do the maroon outside with saddle interior, and do the wires gold (maybe). I will likely leave the Targa bar body-coloured. However, that doesn’t mean everyone has to! If you have a stock Monogram ’78, you could always backdate this one, too.
The Corvette America is one of the stranger cars to come out of an official “Big 3” company. It’s an unofficial official product (kinda like Drift) and it certainly is one of the rarest versions of Chevy’s evergreen sports car. Clearly, it was almost no one’s cup of tea, but that makes it that much cooler as a model kit. That there is a kit of it at all is a testament to the failure of two separate marketing departments, and it makes me thankful for such myopic thinking on the part of both GM and Monogram.
As far as kits go, this is pure late ‘70s stuff, with all that entails. It has low to moderate detail in most parts, the suspension is highly simplified and the engine and engine bay aren’t going to blow you away. There’s good opportunity to add detail, if you want to, though. Like most North American car kits of this age, fit is likely to be dodgy, and location of major subassemblies is likely to be very poor.
It’s a kit that simple enough for a relative beginner, but it will likely be frustrating if you don’t keep your wits about out, and that’s where experience is going to be required. There’s a lot of work to do to keep things from going south at the final assembly stages, and that kind of knowledge you only get by building. Given the rarity of this kit, I wouldn’t let a novice or even only-somewhat experienced modeller try their hands on this one. I’d leave this one for the seasoned hands, although it won’t look like it was as tough as it likely will be once it’s all done. Ah, irony…
For me, this kit is very exciting, and it just oozes potential. I intend to build it just the way I would have wanted a real one, assuming I could have gotten it! It also has a tonne of potential for customization, because, let’s face it, it’s a custom already! Corvette hearse? Corvette wagon? Corvette Limo or parade car? Sure, why not!
While the attempt to resurrect the glory days of the open-air touring car by making a four-door Vette might not have worked, you can’t deny that the Corvette America is certainly a stunningly different automobile. If you like the weird, have a good imagination or an open mind, and want something absurdly long for your shelf, then this is certainly one to grab if you see it!